Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hospital innovation, ten steps for leading change from fear to growth

One can boil it all down to 10 steps for a hospital to join the innovation movement. Doing so will allow providers to get ahead of the marketplace. Since innovation and disruption are not going away anytime soon, hospital leadership may as well break out from the circle the wagons approach to marketing, planning and management.

Is knowledge power?

We have all read the articles. Heard the dire predictions and all gone back to doing what we know how to do. When that doesn’t work here comes the blame/complain game about the market disruptors, and how no one loves the hospital anymore as if anyone ever really cared whether the hospital survives.  Those lessons seem to go by the wayside as hospitals repeat the managerial mistakes of the past which led to the current state. Harsh, yes, but a statement that carries more truth than some may wish to admit.

Moving forward with innovation

The hospital or health system for that matter can innovate. The reason that providers are losing the innovation battle and being pushed further down the food chain comes down to a couple of simple truths.

The innovative disruptors and new entrants have the one thing that the provider doesn’t. Innovators have a far deeper understanding of, and a singular focus on meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer and patient.  Within that focus, these very smart people also understand that they are not in the hospital business, but the healthcare business. They don’t care if the innovation will decrease hospital utilization, which is not their concern as it is a byproduct of the change. It’s all about meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer and patient.

I would not be worrying so much about what the competitor down the street is doing. I’d be more worried about what Apple and Google are doing.

The hospital cannot become an innovator overnight. Though there are much more than ten steps to transform the hospital into an innovation machine that is responsive to market needs, many are cultural. The bottom line is that providers can’t be innovators without the right culture and focus. 

The longest journey begins with the first step

Let’s take that step and transform not only how the hospital does business but can concentrate not only just surviving, but growing.

Step 1. With all due respect to various associations and publications, stop waiting for them to publish an article that gives you permission to try something or points out innovation.  By the time that the “experts consultants” expose what you should be doing, the market has already moved on, and you most likely are a late adopter. Innovation is about seizing the moment not reacting to someone else.

Step 2. The hospital has to become the patient-focused and consumer-focused organization. What that means is that the hospital or health system has one singular vision and purpose for being, that is meeting the healthcare needs of the consumer or patient no matter where or how. The requirement is to change the culture from it’s all about the hospital focus to an external market need focus.

I highly recommend that you read “On becoming a customer-focused healthcare enterprise.” This article provides a framework and guidance on how to measure organizational customer centricity as well as provides a framework for change.  

Step 3.  Redirect resources in planning and marketing to an unrelenting focus on market research to identify and understand the needs of the health care market. Part of this involves asking and listening to the expressed needs of the patient and healthcare consumers. Instead of striving for the home run and flashes of innovative brilliance, look for the moments and opportunities for incremental innovation. These will come from an unrelenting focus on the market and individual needs, not things to do to generate revenue that no one may want or need.

Step 4.  Observe. It’s one thing to ask; it’s another to see and understand how physicians, patients and the healthcare consumer use the hospital.  Try to see how anyone uses the services. In understanding how they access and utilize, comes the knowledge to innovate. One will be very surprised how creatively physicians and patients use the hospital. Opportunities to innovate will come forth based on actual use.

Step 5. Understand difficulties and complaints. If anyone has difficulty or complaints about using the hospital, one has a starting point for innovation. Make the hospital easy to use, eliminate current inconveniences and introduce improvements to overcome complaints.

Step 6.  Learn from other industries. A good way to innovate on a budget is to learn what other industries are doing and apply those lessons to the hospital or health system.  If one looks at the pace of innovation and change in healthcare, the majority of innovation is because individuals have taken what works in another industry and adapted it to healthcare. 

Step 7. Use open innovation. Big consumer products companies encourage developers to bring novel products to them. They are flexible on IP protection and give a clear focus on what is needed. Not bound by the “not invented here” syndrome, hospitals, and health systems could use to emulate that behavior. Instead of being combative and negative on why an idea won’t work, understand the why it could work and how the hospital can participate in development.

Step 8. Ask what if? But this question requires lateral thinking and no area of the hospital is off limits. Looking at the configuration of the clinical and medical services, what could go away tomorrow because it can be done at a lower cost with higher quality in a different setting?  By understanding those factors now comes the innovation of how can I be the first to meet that change head-on. It is a recognition that one is not in the hospital business but the healthcare business.

Step 9. Use social networks. Follow trends and ask a question on groups like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Ask what people want to see or what they think the next new big idea will be. Many early adopters and innovators will be more than happy to answer your questions. I haven’t met an innovator that doesn’t like to talk about what they are doing.

Step 10.  Have regular brainstorm meetings where one generates a lot of new ideas. Use diverse groups from within the hospital and include a provocative outsider like a vendor or key customer.

The ways to innovate are legendary. But one thing innovators have in common is that they recognize the opportunity for innovation driven by meeting the needs of a market because other won’t. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.


For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

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